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Live animal export

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Ratification Date: 05 Nov 2021

Policy

Ideally, Australian food animals should be slaughtered as close to the site of production as practicable to minimise transport and handling stress, and to ensure they are protected by appropriate and enforceable animal welfare and slaughter standards.

Where live export occurs, an Australian-registered shipboard veterinarian must accompany each shipment. Pregnancy diagnosis of all cattle for export must be performed by an Australian-registered and PregCheck® accredited veterinarian.

Effective operational protocols must be in place at all times to safeguard the welfare of exported animals. These protocols must ensure humane animal transport, low stress handling1,2 and slaughter practices in accordance with best practice3; and include accreditation of abattoirs, training of employees and the implementation of an independent animal welfare auditing process.

Animals should not be subjected to prolonged land transport prior to exportation.

Background

To minimise transport and handling stress and to ensure animals are slaughtered according to Australian standards, food animals should be slaughtered in Australia and as close to the site of production as possible.

The development of effective cold chain facilities across all countries to facilitate the chilled and frozen meat export trade is also supported.

There is a view that Australia is working to improve animal welfare in importing countries and if the live export trade ceases, this input may be compromised. Further, that animals will be sourced from countries with lower welfare standards than Australia.

Thus while live export continues to occur, there must be continued research and development into the health and welfare of livestock at all stages of the export process, including ship-board conditions and slaughter.

It is important to engage with the livestock export industry and international veterinary associations to promote the welfare of animals globally and to help safeguard the welfare of all exported animals.

Recommendations

Where live export continues, it is important that there is strict adherence to the following requirements to protect the health and welfare of animals. This applies equally whether animals are exported to provide food or genetic material.

  • Veterinarians should be engaged by the exporter during all aspects of the supply chain to manage animal health and welfare, and, where regulatory defined activities or reporting by an Australian Accredited Veterinarian is also required, this must be performed accurately and diligently and without influence, interference or conflict of interest from related parties.
  • The Commonwealth regulator must institute appropriate training, support systems and regulatory oversight to ensure veterinarians can fulfil their roles with integrity and without conflict of interest. This should include, where possible, defined animal welfare parameters and automated, or digital data management systems to ensure standardised and consistent documentation of activities, accurate reporting, assist auditing of compliance with the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL), and facilitate detailed epidemiological analysis of animal welfare outcomes.
  • When an Independent Observer[1] is employed on a live export vessel to observe and report on animal welfare indicators, or is empowered under regulation to make directives to the exporter in relation to consignment management for animal welfare purposes, the Independent Observer must be an Australian-registered veterinarian with relevant experience.
  • ASEL and Australian Maritime Safety Authority requirements must be enforced by the Australian Government and regularly reviewed and updated. Independent audits must be conducted to detect any failures of Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) and appropriate corrective actions taken. Use of CCTV is strongly recommended as part of this auditing process. Measures must be taken to ensure veterinarians accompanying each shipment manage any conflicts of interest.
  • There must be an effective and enforceable dispute resolution process agreed between governments prior to export approval being granted. Contingency plans must be in place to ensure that the welfare of exported animals is protected if they cannot be unloaded at the designated port. Importing countries must be members of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and have a legislative commitment to ongoing monitoring and enforcement of animal welfare standards.
  • The AVA policy on humane slaughter for all species states ‘When animals are to be slaughtered they must be humanely rendered unconscious until death.’ This equates to use of stunning for all species, including those involved in live export. Animals exported for breeding may be slaughtered many years after importation and it is difficult to influence the slaughter methods used for these animals. For this reason, it is essential that Australian exporters and authorities continue to work to promote stunning as a routine practice in all importing countries in order to improve slaughter standards overall.

[1] Independent Observers (IOs) are appointed by the regulator to provide additional assurance on the effectiveness of exporter arrangements in managing animal welfare. This IO role is distinct from the AAV role.

References

https://www.grandin.com/references/new.corral.html

https://www.publish.csiro.au/an/fulltext/an16800

Other relevant policies and positions statements

Humane slaughter

AVA Review of Heat Stress and Stocking Density (Submission to the McCarthy Review) - 4 May 2018

Further reading

Further reading

Australian Government. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Australian Standards for the export of livestock. Version 3.1 https://www.agriculture.gov.au/export/controlled-goods/live-animals/livestock/australian-standards-livestock

Caulfield MP, Cambridge H, Foster SF et al Heat stress: A major contributor to poor animal welfare associated with long-haul live export voyages. Vet J 2014; 199:223–228.

Coghlan S. Australia and live animal export: wronging nonhuman animals. J Anim Ethics 2014;4:45–60.

World Organization for Animal Health. Animal welfare, Section 7. Terrestrial Animal Health Code 2010. www.oie.int/index.php?id=169&L=0&htmfile=titre_1.7.htm Accessed July 2011.

Date of ratification by AVA Board 5 November 2021